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National Park Foundation doubles efforts to document Latinos’ presence in US history

LatinaLista — Wide open spaces and fresh air are pretty much foreign concepts to most Latino families who live in cramped urban areas or suburban neighborhoods with postage stamp-size yards, where pollution from car emissions or nearby factories are just facts of life — and far away from any national park. In fact, because of safety and health concerns, the closest most Latino kids get to one of the most popular national park past-times, camping, unless they’re a scout, is pitching a makeshift tent — in the den.

The Trujillo family were first generation Hispanic-American ranchers in Alamosa County, Colorado in the 1880s.

So, to say that the National Park Foundation is facing an uphill hike when it comes to turning Latino families on to visiting national parks is an understatement. It could explain why the Foundation’s American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) is taking such a unique approach in making national parks relevant to Latinos — an approach that some would say should be coming from the Dept. of Education rather than the Dept. of Interior.

The National Park Foundation is launching several Latino-focused initiatives to get Latino families more involved with national parks and the other side to the national park system — appreciating historically important buildings.

The first initiative is called the American Latino Theme Study. The goal of the study project is to highlight the role of Latinos in the development of the country.

What does that mean?

Well, the first installment of the project is due to be released in June 2012 and is an in-depth look at Latina/o history since the 15th century.

Hand-in-hand with the Theme Study is finding and designating sites/landmarks important to Latino history in the United States.

The 2010 census counted 50.5 million Latinos in the US. Yet despite a 400-year history in North America and the existence of vibrant communities throughout the United States, only 3% of the 86,000 sites on the National Register of Historic Places explicitly recognize and celebrate our country’s ethnically diverse cultures. The National Park Foundation’s ALHF will seek to assist the National Park Service in its efforts to identify, document, nominate, and preserve historic places highlighting Latino contributions.

The final component of the initiatives is making Latino involvement long-term by getting young Latinos involved in special park youth summits. The summits educate young people about the importance of historic preservation in communities and the responsibility of taking care of historic landmarks, along with, national parks.

The American Latino Heritage Fund has a web site listing their initiatives and links to current resources to which they envision adding the Latino perspective, such as the “American Latino Travel Itinerary.” The online itinerary will showcase Latino historic properties featuring national parks and National Historic Landmarks. There’s also a link to current park initiatives related to Hispanic Heritage Month.

Yet, the first step is to remind this generation that Latinos have always been an important part of the history of the United States.

“American Latinos have played a pivotal role in shaping this country,” said Neil Mulholland, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “We are proud to lead the charge in creating a movement to protect and preserve this rich culture and reaffirm our commitment to fully represent the nation’s diverse cultural groups and their role in our national park system.”

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